Faith: Is It All God Requires for Salvation?

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MP3 Audio (32.33 MB)


Faith: Is It All God Requires for Salvation?

MP3 Audio (32.33 MB)

When Martin Luther broke with Roman Catholic teaching and practice 500 years ago, one of his main areas of disagreement was the church’s selling of “indulgences”—donations to the church for which the person or his or her loved ones would have their time in purgatory reduced. (For more on indulgences and the unbiblical concept of purgatory, see “Martin Luther: The Unfinished Reformation”.)

In reaction to this practice and the corrupting influence it had on the church, Luther proclaimed that salvation was a matter of “faith alone”—that one’s actions or “works” had nothing to do with it. This premise became a foundation for Protestant doctrine ever since, and most Protestant denominations accept this basic view in some form or another.

Salvation is God’s gift

Just to be clear, Scripture tells us that eternal life is God’s gift, not something any of us deserve or can in any way earn. But the key question we need to ask is this: Is faith alone, or belief alone, really all that is required for salvation? Or does God set conditions for us to receive His priceless gift? It’s vitally important to your relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ and to your future that you understand!

The Bible indeed shows that God does set certain conditions for receiving salvation. Meeting these conditions is not some-how earning salvation, which is a gift, but will permit us to receive that gift—while disregarding and failing to meet the conditions will disqualify us from receiving the gift. What are these conditions?

At some point in your life you may have seen religious tracts quoting Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Or maybe they quoted Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

Or perhaps they cited probably the single most-quoted verse of the Bible, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” From these verses millions of people believe that all they must do is believe in Jesus Christ and their salvation is assured.

Do this, the tracts tell us, and we have the promise of eternal life. But is this all there is to it? Is faith or belief all that God requires of us for salvation? Some assume these few passages are the final word on the subject. But is that true?

If you’ve studied your Bible much at all, you probably realize that we must look at a number of verses scattered throughout Scripture to get the whole picture. We must look at all the Bible says on the subject to come to a proper understanding. And few things could be more important than understanding what we must do—or not do—if we are to receive God’s gift of eternal life.

Belief is a clear requirement—but is there more?

Certainly belief in God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son, as They are described in Scripture, is crucial. Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” So belief in God and having living, active faith in Him is vital to pleasing God and receiving His gift of salvation. 

And again, salvation to eternal life is God’s gift by grace—His loving favor and acceptance toward us—as Ephesians 2:8-9 explains: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Salvation is God’s gift, unearned and undeserved on our part. No one will ever be able to boast that he or she has earned or deserves the gift of eternal life.

But it doesn’t stop at simple belief and grace. Can we do things—or not do things—that disqualify us from receiving that wonderful gift from God? The answer is crucial to your relationship with God and to your future!

The fact is, as noted earlier, the Bible shows that God sets certain conditions for receiving salvation. Meeting these conditions will enable us to receive that gift, while disregarding and failing to meet them will disqualify us from receiving it.

Consider the following statement in Scripture regarding what is required of us in receiving salvation through Jesus Christ. Hebrews 5:8-9 says of Him, the author of our salvation: “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (emphasis added throughout).

Can gifts have conditions?

Since salvation is God’s gift, what does this passage mean when it speaks of “eternal salvation to all who obey Him”? If we must do something to receive God’s gift of salvation, how can it be a gift?

To use an analogy, if someone offered to send you $100 if you would send him a self-addressed stamped envelope, he would be offering you a gift. Simply believing that he would send you the money would not actually get you the money. And if you failed to send the envelope, you likewise would not receive the money. You might complain, but you still would not receive the gift because you had not met the conditions.

On the other hand, if you sent the required envelope and received the $100, this does not mean you earned the gift. You simply met the necessary conditions. Without the offer of the undeserved gift, you could’ve sent hundreds of envelopes and received nothing, as you would have been entitled to nothing. The fact that conditions are attached to receiving a gift makes it no less a gift. Millions of people fail to understand this simple fact.

What must we do?

Since Jesus is the author of our salvation, let’s examine a few of His statements that tell us what we must do to receive that gift of salvation—eternal life with Him.

In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Here Jesus clearly states that merely acknowledging Him as Lord and Master—saying “Lord, Lord”—is not sufficient. To inherit the Kingdom of God, we must do something. We must do the will of the Father, as Jesus clearly stated.

Jesus wants us to understand that there is more to receiving eternal life than just belief or mental acceptance. Our conviction that He is our Savior must be more than just a warm, comforting thought or intellectual concept. Jesus warns that simply calling on His name or recognizing Him as “Lord” is not enough.

At one point a wealthy young man asked Jesus how he could receive eternal life: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). Christ’s reply, in Matthew 19:17, might shock some who think obedience to God’s law is unnecessary—that He has done that for us so we don’t have to do anything. Jesus responded, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

Jesus didn’t answer that nothing is required other than believing in God or in Him. He told the young man he must obey the commandments of God to receive the gift of eternal life. How plain! Then, when asked which commandments, Jesus quoted from several of the Ten Commandments and another summary commandment from the Old Testament Scriptures.

As the apostle James (the half brother of Jesus Christ) points out, belief is pointless unless it is backed up by action and obedience: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble” (James 2:19). If we think that belief is all we need for salvation, we are sorely mistaken! As James tells us, the demonic spirits fully believe in the existence of the one true God. They further know that Jesus is the Son of God raised from the dead. But the demons’ believing in these facts doesn’t mean they are saved!

James goes on to explain that faith—belief and trust in God—and obedience go hand in hand: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:20-22).

James’ point here is that works of obedience as a result of our faith maintain our relationship with God and lead to greater faith and obedience, as God requires. Without works as evidence of our faith, our faith is dead—worthless and useless.

Regrettably, Martin Luther failed to understand these biblical truths, dismissing the book of James as “an epistle of straw” that didn’t really belong in the Bible.

Baptism and the laying on of hands

Are there other conditions one must meet for receiving God’s gift of eternal life? Notice what Jesus stated in Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Water baptism—meaning full immersion—is a symbolic act representing the death and washing away of our old sinful self and the beginning of a new life of serving God and striving to avoid sin (Romans 6:1-23). Through this act we symbolically put to death and bury the old person with his or her sins and rise from that watery grave to a new life as a new person.

Baptism is to be followed by the laying on of hands by a true minister of Jesus Christ, which allows us to receive God’s Holy Spirit and truly belong to Him (Acts 8:17; Romans 8:9). Unless we surrender our lives to God through baptism and the laying on of hands to receive His Spirit as instructed, we fail to meet—whether knowingly or unknowingly—this important requirement for receiving His gift of salvation.

The apostle Peter also affirmed these conditions for receiving God’s Spirit, declaring, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Repentance means to turn from disobedience to God to obeying Him. So again, committed obedience and baptism are shown to be requirements in the salvation process.

To those who would brush aside these and other plain biblical instructions Jesus replies, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?’” (Luke 6:46). All too many rationalize around what Scripture plainly says—and in so doing do exactly what Jesus here warned against!

In Matthew 10:22 and Matthew 24:13 Jesus gave another condition we must meet to receive God’s gift of salvation: “He who endures to the end will be saved.” Some believe in the unbiblical teaching known as “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” But as Jesus plainly and directly implied here, we can lose out on salvation if we fail to endure to the end.

Once we have committed ourselves to obeying God and surrendering ourselves to Him, we must stay the course to the end and not look back (Luke 9:62). Even the apostle Paul realized that he needed to discipline himself to be in total subjection to God—“lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). He clearly understood that through neglect he could lose out on God’s gift of salvation! (compare Hebrews 2:1-3). 

Salvation is free, but not cheap

You may have heard the expression, “Salvation is free, but not cheap.” God’s gift of life to us cost Jesus Christ His life. He, the very Son of God, willingly surrendered His life so that we might receive God’s wonderful gift of eternal life. And it cost the Father, who “gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

But God expects us to surrender our lives in return, as Jesus states in Luke 14:26-27: “If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me” (New Living Translation 1996).

Our love for and commitment to Jesus Christ and God the Father must be more important to us than any other relationship. Each of us must be willing to bear his “cross,” to faithfully follow Jesus even through life’s most difficult challenges.

Luke 14:28-33 carries on that thought, warning us to consider carefully that accepting the gift of eternal life comes at the highest cost we can imagine. “So no one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me” (verse 33, NLT, 1996). As Jesus Christ gave His life for us, we must be willing to give our lives to follow Him!

So returning to the title of this article, is faith alone all that’s required for God’s gift of salvation? Clearly the answer is no. His Word spells out certain conditions for us. Let us be sure, as Hebrews 2:3 exhorts us, that we not “neglect so great a salvation”!


Luther Followed Early Catholic Anti-Semitism

The erroneous teachings of the Catholic church weren’t the only factors that influenced Martin Luther’s theology. He rightly condemned the church’s corruption and the false teachings that fed it, and this was a major factor in his belief that we are saved by our faith or belief alone—that obedience to God isn’t a requirement.

But another factor fed into Martin Luther’s views, and that was his virulent anti-Semitism. In the early days of the Reformation, he believed that, once he had purified the church of its corruption and doctrinal error, Jews would now recognize the truth and flock to the new, improved church. When they didn’t convert as he expected, he turned on them in bitterness and anger.

Luther’s attitude toward Jews is summed up in the title of one of his books—The Jews and Their Lies. Following are some excerpts:

“I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them.”

“Now just behold these miserable, blind, and senseless people . . . their blindness and arrogance are as solid as an iron mountain.”

“Therefore be on your guard against the Jews, knowing that wherever they have their synagogues, nothing is found but a den of devils in which sheer self­glory, conceit, lies, blasphemy, and defaming of God and men are practiced most maliciously . . .”

“Moreover, they are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us . . . Thus they live from day to day, together with wife and child, by theft and robbery . . .”

“What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy.”

“I shall give you my sincere advice: First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians.”

“. . . I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues.”

“. . . I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.”

“. . . I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb.”

“My essay, I hope, will furnish a Christian . . . to become the foe of the Jews’ malice, lying, and cursing, and to understand not only that their belief is false but that they are surely possessed by all devils.”

(From Luther’s Works, E.T. Bachmann, ed.,1971, vol. 47, pp. 268-293. Read more in “Martin Luther’s Hatred of Jews”.)

In all this Luther was following in the footsteps of an earlier anti-Semite—Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor who had legalized Christianity in A.D. 313 and used it as a tool to help unite his empire. But the version of Christianity Constantine approved was itself deeply anti-Semitic, having rejected the Jewish roots of a Church whose founder and 12 apostles were all Jewish.

In declaring to be heretics those who refused to follow the Roman church in its celebration of Easter instead of the biblical Passover observed by Jesus Christ, the apostles and the early Church, Constantine wrote: “It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast [Easter] we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul . . . Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd: for we have received from our Savior a different way . . .

“Strive and pray continually that the purity of your soul may not seem in anything to be sullied by fellowship with the custom of these most wicked men . . . All should unite in desiring that which sound reason appears to demand, avoiding all participation in the perjured conduct of the Jews” (as recorded by Eusebius, Life of Constantine 3, 18-19, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1979, second series, Vol. 1, pp. 524-525).

Sadly, both the Catholic and Protestant versions of Christianity have rejected many of the original beliefs and practices of the early Church, labeling them “Jewish” (see “What Did the Early Church Believe and Practice?”). The beliefs and practices of what is called Christianity today are far different from those of the early Church. To learn more, download or request our free study guides The Church Jesus Built, Sunset to Sunset: God’s Sabbath Rest, Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe? and Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?

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